Midnight raid ends occupation of St Paul’s

Police descend on a protester praying outside St Paul’s © Getty Images

Protesters camped outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London have been dispersed, and their tents cleared from the square. Many are outraged by the Church’s role in the eviction.

Yesterday morning the square outside St Paul’s stood empty and quiet. But for a few slogans scrawled in faded chalk across the paving stones, no trace remained of the activist encampment that has become a familiar part of the London landscape.

After a final court ruling against Occupy, bailiffs descended on ‘Tent City’ in the early hours of Tuesday morning. A few activists stubbornly held their ground, building a rickety wooden fortress and chanting slogans as police donned riot gear. One by one protesters were marched into the waiting vans.

After all the optimism, scorn and furious debate the four-month occupation has provoked, its final moments were muted. Around twenty people were arrested, but mostly the clashes between protesters and police were verbal. Some even exchanged a few jokes.

But the eviction did not pass without controversy. While some piled a barricade of wooden pallets for their last stand, others relocated to the cathedral steps. Here, on Church property, they believed they would be safe.

Unknown to them, however, St Paul’s had given police permission to clear protesters from cathedral property as well as the square outside. The activists– some kneeling in prayer – were swept off the steps by a line of police.

Occupy St Paul’s has caused turmoil in the Anglican Church right from the start. In November Giles Fraser, canon of the cathedral, resigned in protest against the occupiers’ frosty reception. He envisaged violence ‘on the steps of St Paul’s’. Now, despite the general peacefulness of the eviction, some claim that Fraser’s prediction has come true.

After a wave of American occupations were broken up last November, St Paul’s was the highest profile camp remaining. But in the square, a lonely piece of graffiti still issues a message of defiance: ‘this is only the beginning.’

Perhaps this is the truth. ‘Be assured that plans are afoot,’ said an Occupy spokesperson. ‘May is one of our favourite months...’

What would Jesus do?

‘The task of the Church,’ says Giles Fraser, ‘is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.’ Christians in the Occupy movement agree. Jesus kicked the money changers out of the temple, they say – those who truly follow Christ’s teachings should unite with opponents of materialism and greed.

Others think that the Church should stay well away from politics. St Paul’s is a place of holiness, they say, not revolution. People come to the cathedral for comfort and contemplation; this hardly chimes with the hoard of scruffy, noisy activists camped out on its doorstep.

You Decide

  1. Should protesters have a right to set up camp in public places?
  2. Should religious institutions take a stance on political issues?

Activities

  1. The Occupy movement has promised further action using ‘a variety of tactics.’ What tactics would you use to promote a cause? Pick an issue that matters to you and design an unusual way of protesting about it peacefully.
  2. Research a religion other than Christianity and write a paragraph on its attitude to material wealth.

Some People Say...

“Religion and politics don’t mix.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m an atheist. Why should I care whose side Jesus is on?
It might not affect your opinions, but the social role of religion touches everyone. Organised religions are hugely influential – should they use this for social change, or steer clear of politics and focus on spiritual matters? Should they co-operate with worldly authorities or present themselves as an alternative? The answers have significant consequences for all societies.
Okay... so what did Jesus say?
‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven’ – although this ‘camel’ may actually be a mistranslation of ‘rope.’ Either way, he was no fan of wealth. He also said, ‘you cannot serve both God and money,’ and his early followers renounced their worldly possessions.

Word Watch

Bailiffs
Originally, bailiffs were a kind of early police, exercising the king’s justice across the land. But the term has narrowed. Nowadays their most famous role is to remove property from people who fail to pay their debts; in this case they were there to remove tents and belongings left behind by protesters.
Occupation
The Occupy movement against social and economic inequality broke into the public awareness last September when protesters occupied a park in New York. Aiming to unite the majority against the super-rich, their slogan ‘we are the 99%’ spread fast – and so did occupations. Most of the largest have now been shut down, but many smaller ones remain, including a second camp in London.
Money changers
Jesus said nothing about banks – in his time there were none. But there were money lenders and money changers. These and other merchants provoked Jesus’ only recorded act of physical force: finding them in the temple, he overturned their tables and ‘cast them out.’

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